Portable Commentary

21 July 2024

Thought for the day  
Our current culture of distraction seems to privilege busy-ness (the modern heresy of “activism”). It is, of course, an illusion to confuse hyperactivity with productivity or, even worse, administration with ministry. When people involved in ministry go on retreat, the first two days are often spent sleeping—itself instructive! It is often only when we stop that we realise how much we are in need of rest and refreshment. While there is always more to be done, we have to choose how to use our time. An approach of “selective neglect” is not without its value, as recommended in
The Joy of the Gospel.

God of life and abundance, you call us to be bearers of the living and joy-filled Gospel. Help us to recognise our own need of time with you and refreshment in spirit. Amen! Let it be!

Mark 6:30
  The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognised them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Initial observations
Anyone involved in ministry today will have no problem recognising the difficult balance of personal prayer and attending to the needs of those we serve.

At this point, the lectionary skips the story of the death of John the Baptist. It is, nevertheless, very instructive that that story is inserted between the sending of the twelve in Mk 6:7-13 and the return of the twelve in Mk 6:30. Rejection (as noted explicitly) and even martyrdom (as implied in the case of the Baptist) are to be expected.

Kind of writing
There are two stories here: (i) the necessary refreshment of the disciples and (ii) the needs of those they minister to.

Old Testament background

Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him; have him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation. (Num 27:15–19)

When he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I refrain?” He answered, “Go up and triumph; they will be given into your hand.” But the king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” Then Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd; and the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each one go home in peace.’” The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favourable about me, but only disaster?” (2 Chr 18:14–17)

New Testament foreground
Jesus as teacher
On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! (Mark 6:2)

Jesus as doer of might deeds
They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37)

Jesus as a person of prayer
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35–36)

After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. (Mark 6:46)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. (Mark 9:2)

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:22–27)
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” (Mark 14:32)

Jesus responding to people’s needs
And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:36–39)

St Paul
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:7–12)

Brief commentary
Verse 30 Jesus is always the centre of the “gathering” in this Gospel: Mark 2:2; 4:1; 5:21; 6:30; 7:1. Being sent is an action in the Gospel and so the noun “apostle” is rare in Mark (here and in 3:14), whereas the verb is frequent (x20). “To report” is the same as “to announce”, as in: But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” (Mark 5:19) Teaching is the characteristic activity of Jesus and of his disciples (Mark 1:21–22; 2:13; 4:1–2; 6:2, 6, 30, 34; 7:7; 8:31; 9:31; 10:1; 11:17; 12:14, 35; 14:49).
Verse 31 Jesus’ own practice of and teaching on prayer may be found in this Gospel (Mark 1:35; 6:46; 11:24–25; 12:40; 13:18; 14:32, 35, 38–39), even if not as extensively as in Luke.
Verse 32 To be by themselves or “in private” is a characteristic of Mark’s narrative (Mark 4:34; 6:31–32; 7:33; 9:2, 28; 13:3; translations vary). It reflects the inner teaching or training of the disciples. The disadvantage of the desert place triggers the next story (v. 35).
Intriguingly, the next time “rest” is mentioned is also in a context of prayer: He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Mark 14:41) However, rest is no longer appropriate or even possible by then.
Verse 33 The criss-crossing of the lake is a feature of Mark’s story. The accompanying map above gives an idea. Chasing after Jesus also happens earlier in Mark 1:36-39 (see picture). Running to Jesus also occurs elsewhere: When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. (Mark 5:6)
Verse 34 The verb “to have compassion” is used only in relation to Jesus in this Gospel. Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (Mark 1:41) “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. (Mark 8:2) It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

The verb means to have pity or to feel sympathy. The related noun means the inward parts of the body but it not infrequently carries a metaphorical meaning (heart, love, affection).

Pointers for prayer
1. The apostles reported to Jesus all that they had done and taught. Perhaps you have had the experience of being able to check in with somebody and share an experience. What was that like for you?
2. Jesus saw that the apostles needed to rest and eat. What has been your experience of finding a restful place after a busy day? What kind of nourishment have you found necessary in order to live with energy and enthusiasm? What have these insights taught you about life?
3. When Jesus saw the crowd, he recognised their need and reached out to them. Who has been a Jesus person for you, someone who recognised your need and reached out to you? For whom have you been a Jesus person in that way?
4. It sometimes can be difficult to strike a balance between responding to the needs of others and meeting our need for rest and nourishment. What has helped you to keep the balance right?

Compassionate God, from far and near you gather your Church into one.
Safeguard the unity of your flock through the teaching of Christ the Shepherd that all your scattered children may find in him the guidance and nourishment that they seek.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.